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Volkswagen’s China JV recalls cars over air bag issue

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – FAW-Volkswagen Automobile Ltd, a joint venture of Volkswagen AG VOW_p.DE and a Chinese state-owned carmaker, will recall 270,635 Audi (NSUG.DE) cars in China to fix a problem with air bag software, China’s quality watchdog said on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman at Audi China said the move was part of a global recall involving 850,000 cars announced last week.

Some of the cars in the recall have software configuration problems in the air bag control systems, which mean the air bags fail to open in certain circumstances in collisions, the Chinese regulator said in a statement.

The Audi recall comes less than two weeks after Volkswagen said it would call back more than 580,000 cars in China to fix a possible suspension defect.

The latest recall involves 4,692 imported Audi A4 all-road cars and 265,943 China-made Audi A4L cars produced between May 25, 2012 and Oct. 22, 2014, China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in the statement on its website.

(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Kazunori Takada; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Jane Baird)

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Consumer Reports 6 least reliable cars might surprise you

Consumer Reports has released some car reliability news, good, bad and ugly.

For its Consumer Reports 2014 reliability study, analysts evaluated more than 1 million complaints from readers to rank the most and least reliable vehicles.

The study produces a forecast, ranking the reliability of the 2015 version of the vehicle based on past troubles.

What was tops?

Toyota’s Scion xB, based on the time-tested Corolla, was tops, even beating Lexus.

Another Toyota product, the Lexus CT 200h compact luxury hybrid, is another of the most reliable cars.

The hybrid version of the Lexus 300, called 300h, is another of the top cars int the survey. Owners of 2014 models reported few problems.

But at the bottom of the reliability list were three cars and three SUV’s that were the six least reliable cars, according to Consumer Reports.

But six cars are the least reliable, the worst on the list, according to Consumer Reports:

They are:

Fiat 500 L

Ford Fiesta

Mercedes Benz CLA

Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Grand Cherokee, diesel

Nissan Pathfinder

Complaints ran the gamut, from poorly functioning infotainment systems, faulty gas systems and less-than-adequate transmissions.

RELATED: Consumer Reports top cars to make you smile

RELATED:Top 10 cars for exceeding 200,000 miles

RELATED:Top used cars under $10,000

RELATED:Top cars for teen drivers

USA Today contributed to this report.

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Prepare for the part-time self-driving car

Preparing for the part-time self-driving car

Self-driving AI cars have been a staple in popular culture for some time—any child of the 1980s will fondly remember both the Autobots and Knight Rider’s KITT—but consider them to be science fiction no longer. Within the next five years, you’ll be able to buy a car that can drive itself (and you) down the highway, although transforming into a Decepticon-battling robot or crime-fighter may take a while longer. As one might expect, the journey to fully automated self-driving cars will be one of degrees.

Here in the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created five categories of autonomous cars. The most basic of these are level zero, which might include your vehicle if it doesn’t have a system like electronic stability control. Fully autonomous cars, which can complete their journeys with no human control beyond choosing the destination, are categorized as level four. While level fours are still some way off, level three autonomous cars, which will be able to self-drive under certain conditions (say, an HOV lane during rush hour), are much closer than one might think.

A couple of weeks ago, Tesla wooed its fan base with the news that soon, its cars will be able to drive themselves. But the autonomous car may be one of the company’s least innovative moves yet. Those who’ve been watching the industry closely will know that Mercedes, Volvo, Audi, and others have similar products waiting in the wings, ready to hit the streets as soon as the rules and regulations fall into place.

First steps

It all used to be so simple. A car was just a car; a mechanical contraption with an engine and wheels, controlled by a human being with a combination of pedals, levers, and wheel. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication meant using turn signals or perhaps gesticulating rudely out the window to indicate displeasure at being cut off in traffic. However as semiconductors became cheaper, faster, and more rugged, they attracted the attention of the auto industry. Electronics began to infiltrate our cars, with fuel injection replacing carburetors in the name of performance and efficiency, for example, and anti-lock brakes (ABS) being added for safety.

By 1995, electronic stability control (ESC) systems started to appear, Mercedes-Benz leading the way with its flagship S-Class. Cars equipped with ESC are constantly monitoring their driver’s steering inputs and comparing them to the direction the vehicle is headed. If those two variables start to diverge beyond certain limits (because the car is either under- or oversteering), ESC will apply the brakes to individual wheels to bring things back under control. Stability control systems proved so effective at reducing both crashes and injuries that they became mandatory for any car sold in the US or EU by the end of 2011.

The mandate in effect made ABS and traction control standard features, too. So any car one might buy today will not only constantly be monitoring both its direction and where it’s heading, but also whether an individual wheel is spinning too much (because of a loss of grip) or even not at all (locked by a brake). These various safety aids aren’t sufficient for self-driving cars. They only take control during emergencies to slow a vehicle, but with the advent of drive-by-wire throttles and steering—something we explored recently—all that remains is for the vehicle to be able to ‘see’ the environment around it and have a ‘brain’ fast enough to make sense of that data to control where it goes. No biggie.

Eyes and ears

As it turns out, most of the technology needed for a car to sense the world around it already exists. Adaptive cruise control—as fitted to the Audi A8, for example—uses a mix of optical, radar, and ultrasonic sensors that keep a car from veering out of its lane and, by constantly checking the range to other vehicles, from hitting any of them. Image recognition software will even detect speed limits on road signs and alert the driver. All of this would seem like science fiction even a decade ago, but it really is just the beginning. Quite soon, those sensors will do more than just tell your car what’s around it, thanks to what’s known as V2V.

As Ars’ Sean Gallagher found out early this year, V2V-enabled cars can communicate to each other, warning of upcoming road hazards. V2V is being built atop 802.11p, a Wi-Fi standard that uses 75 MHz of the spectrum centered on 5.9 GHz. 802.11p allows almost instant network connections and can broadcast messages without establishing a network connection first, both of which are extremely desirable when thinking about the safety aspects of V2V. After all, it’s no good telling another car about a road hazard if you need to spend precious seconds handshaking. V2V-enabled cars will be able to quite literally see around corners, since the technology doesn’t require line of sight.

The cloud

But wait, there’s more, and it’s coming from the cloud. More and more cars are coming equipped with LTE data connections, mainly in response to consumer demand for streaming media services. Passenger entertainment may seem trivial to some, but persistent data connections also enable in-car navigation systems to get a lot smarter. I’m probably not alone, for example, in ditching either a standalone or built-in GPS unit in favor of a smartphone app like Google Maps or Waze. And if you’re like me, you probably did it for the same reason: the smartphone apps are able to provide layers of real-time data (like traffic) on top of the cartography. Data-enabled cars mean we can ditch the smartphone holders and go back to using that onboard navigation system. That navigation data will also allow the car to know where it is in the world and, to a certain extent, what it’s likely to encounter.

That kind of map data is sufficiently informative for human drivers to use while they navigate, but even combined with GPS it’s not going to be accurate enough for a self-driving car (civilian GPS accuracy only has a 95-percent confidence interval of 7.8 meters). No, that’s going to require an extremely high-resolution map, and that map will need to be accurate, which means constantly updating. Writing for Slate, Lee Gomes identified this as a problem for Google, but other companies, particularly Nokia, think they might have this one licked.

Nokia’s HERE platform begins by mapping streets in the conventional 21st century way—with a small fleet of sensor- and GPS-equipped mapping vehicles, which it uses to create an HD map that’s machine (but not human) readable. But in addition to providing location data to HERE-enabled cars, Nokia will leverage them to continually update that map in near-real time. Those same cars will send sensor data about the road—things like the position of road lane markers accurate to a few centimeters—resulting in an always up-to-date map.

Nokia also has other plans for using crowdsourced data to improve the self-driving car. We recently spoke with HERE’s head of Automotive Cloud Services, Vladimir Boroditsky, who told Ars the company plans to use crowdsourced data from connected cars to create data sets of driving behavior that the company can use to train car software how to drive without terrifying or aggravating humans along for the ride. Compared to the alternative, it certainly sounds like an efficient solution.

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AutoNation Halts Sales of Cars in Air Bag Recalls

Associated Press

The head of the nation’s biggest car dealership chain says it won’t sell used cars being recalled for exploding air bags due to conflicting advice from automakers and lack of direction from the government.

The recalls are giving the auto industry a black eye because they are “confusing and incoherent,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said Tuesday in an interview.

Ten automakers have recalled more than 12 million cars with air bags made by parts supplier Takata Corp. The air bags can inflate with too much force, blowing apart metal canisters and sending shards flying at drivers and passengers. Safety advocates say that four people have died due to the problem.

Some automakers have limited recalls to a few Southern states with high humidity, while others have expanded them. Still others have done national recalls for similar problems. Dozens of models made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota dating to the 2001 model year are covered by the recalls.

“You have 10 different manufacturers taking 10 different positions,” Jackson said. “How are we and the consumers supposed to figure out what is the right line?”

AutoNation, a 277-franchise chain that’s in 15 states, won’t sell any of the cars if they are being recalled under supervision of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The cars can be sold once the recall repairs are done. About 40 cars in Southern states are affected. But a spokesman said the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based retailer will sell models equipped with Takata air bags outside of the Southern states as long as they aren’t being recalled by NHTSA.

The industry needs to sit down and talk about standardizing the recalls, Jackson says. “I think there needs to be a process when a component fails across multiple manufacturers, that there’s a coherent, coordinated recall effort. We do not have that here,” he says.

NHTSA, the government’s auto safety agency, should be coordinating and standardizing the effort, he said. But it doesn’t have a top executive. David Friedman has been serving as acting or deputy administrator since December of last year. The Obama administration has said to expect a new administrator within two weeks.

“I don’t know why they leave these positions like that for so long,” Jackson said in an interview after the company posted quarterly earnings.

Government investigators believe that prolonged exposure to moisture in the air makes the air bag inflator chemicals burn too fast, creating too much pressure. They’re still doing tests of inflators replaced by dealers to figure out how much humidity is enough to cause the problem. Depending on the results, the recall areas could be expanded. So far NHTSA says it hasn’t found problems outside of the following areas: Florida, Puerto Rico, limited areas near the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

Lawmakers have called on NHTSA to do a national recall. But the agency says it doesn’t have data to support that. Plus, a national recall would divert a limited number of replacement parts from states where regulators say the need is most urgent.

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Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars

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Why ‘Consumer Reports’ says these 6 cars are trouble

USA TODAY’s Chris Woodyard takes a look at the six vehicles that Consumer Reports magazine says are giving their owners the most trouble.
/Sean Fujiwara

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Detroit Electric shows its year-late battery sports car

Detoirt Elecgtric says this is final design of SP:01Teaser shot of Detroit Electric two-seat sports car,Detroit Electric SP:01 battery two-seater as shownDetroit Electric SP:01 as shown in Shanghai in 2013,

Detroit Electric giving a look at the rear end of what it considers the final version of its SP:01 battery-fueled electric sports car.

The car will be somewhat similar to the Tesla Roadster no longer in production. Both are pure battery-power two-seaters based on Lotus designs. Detroit Electric’s founder is former Lotus executive Albert Lam, former Group CEO of the Lotus Engineering Group and Executive Director of Lotus Cars of England.

Detroit Electric says its car will not be a roadster — open car — but rather a hatchback for better aerodynamics, longer range, higher speed.

Production is to begin late this year, and sales are to begin early next year in Asia, Europe and North America. No price has been announced.

The company was founded in 2008 and named after an electric car company that was successful in the early 1900s. It said in March 2013 that it would build as many as 2,500 sports cars a year in Michigan, but it didn’t say exactly where.

Now the plan is to build all the cars in a new, dedicated Detroit Electric production facility in Leamington Spa, England, beginning late this year.

It also plans a European headquarters in Houten, Netherlands, where the company has recruited a new team to manage the brand’s sales and marketing, as well as customer service in the region.

The company’s h.q. remains on the 18th floor of the Fisher Building in downtown Detroit, and that site also becomes the financial center and will oversee North American activities.

The company claims that its lightweight, limited-edition SP:01 will be the world’s fastest production electric sports car: top speed, 155 mph; 0-60 mph, 3.7 seconds. It hasn’t given a driving range between battery recharges.

The changes since the 2013 Shanghai showing include a fastback design with smoother rooofline, a rear spoiler and heating-cooling system improvements.

The vehicle’s battery packs have been clad in a protective composite casing which forms an integral part of the vehicle’s structure and makes the car stiffer. It also helps protect the batteries in a crash.

Jerry Chung, design chief at Detroit Electric, said: “The final design of SP:01 incorporates signature Detroit Electric design DNA, carried over from the prototype model we revealed last year. Coupled with many motorsport visual cues, the new fastback design, bold face and sharp contours evoke the company’s vision of pure electric performance.”

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Tesla Announces a New Leasing Package for Its Electric Cars

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Reliability survey: Infotainment ‘plagues’ new cars

USA TODAY’s Chris Woodyard takes a look at the six vehicles that Consumer Reports magazine says are giving their owners the most trouble
/Sean Fujiwara

Consumer Reports says infotainment systems appear to be the most troublesome feature in 2014 vehicles.

In fact, it considers them a “growing first-year reliability plague,” referring to models in the first year after introduction or a redesign.

That conclusion is part of the results announced today of the publication’s annual Auto Reliability Survey. The publication solicits replies from readers to a questionnaire about their cars and analyzes the results — this year based on more than a million responses — to predict the reliability of new vehicles by brand and model.

CR said the worst example of the infotainment phenomena in this year’s crop of new models is the In Touch system in the Infiniti Q50 sedan. More than one in five owners said it didn’t work right. That, combined with other reliability issues in the Infiniti QX60 SUV, pulled Infiniti’s overall brand reliability ranking down 14 places to 20th — the biggest drop of any of the 28 brands in the survey this year.

Electronic issues also can be a signal that the vehicle may have other problems, the magazine said.

“Infotainment system problems generally don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. “A close look at the results suggests that cars with a lot of in-car electronic issues usually have plenty of other troubles, too.”

Entry-level 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is among theThe Jeep Grand Cherokee is knocked for its diesel versionThe Ford Fiesta sports the new face of Ford with aNissan  Pathfinder is proving to be popularJeep Cherokee is known for its looksThe Fiat 500L is shown at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles

The survey is widely followed, but reliability isn’t the only way to judge a car, says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book’s It is “one of many aspects that make up a car’s total ownership experience,” he says. And “it has to be considered among factors like purchase price, resale value, performance and fuel efficiency.

“Measuring reliability is also not a straightforward process,” Brauer says, “because for some it means how many unexpected problems arise while for others it means satisfaction with the cupholders. Car shoppers should keep all of these factors in mind, rather than fixating on a single factor, when considering their next purchase.”

According to CR, first-year models from Infiniti, Jeep, Fiat, Ram, Cadillac, Ford and Honda all have suffered significant rates of complaints due to infotainment bugs and glitches.

Of the 17 problem areas CR asks about in its survey, the category that includes in-car electronics generated more complaints from owners than any other category.

Common electronics issues identified in past CR surveys include unresponsive touch screens and a reluctance to pair phones. Those issues continue, CR said, and this year’s results also showing growing problems with other aspects of infotainment systems, including multi-use controllers.

Infotainment is a hot item in today’s cars and trucks and the word generally refers to electronic systems that can include links to the user’s cellphone, connections for an iPod or other music device, built-in navigation, vehicle controls from climate to lighting and apps that provide other features, such as reminding you where you parked or whether you locked the doors.

The most modern not only pair a phone to the car without using a cord, but also let you control most of the car’s and the phone’s features via voice command and display the phone’s features on the vehicle screen.

And as with the horsepower race of old, carmakers are rushing to be able to tout the most new features.

General Motors, for example, is trying to trump rivals by installing built-in 4GLTE connections and Wi-Fi in more and more models.

But being first to market has risks. Ford Motor was an infotainment pioneer, with its Microsoft-based Sync voice control system. But it was quite unreliable at first and knocked down Ford’s reliability scores. Ford has hinted that it will replace the Microsoft system with other, unnamed software that it expects to be more dependable.

Consumer Reports has named its top vehicles for reliability,Lexus ES is a pickMitsubishi Outlander Sport is another top pick forLexus CT 200h is a compact luxury hybridLexus RX is a top SUVBill Fay, a Toyota group vice presiden, introduces

Here are Consumer Reports’ tally of predicted reliability by brand for 2015 models, and the best and worst individual models in this year’s survey:

Rank (Rank last year), brand, worst model, best model

1. (1) Lexus, IS 250, CT 200h
2. (2) Toyota, Avalon, Prius C
3. (5) Mazda, Mazda3 (2.5L), Mazda6*
4. (8) Honda, Odyssey, Civic Coupe
5. (4) Audi, S5*, Allroad*
6. (12) Buick, LaCrosse (V-6), Verano
7. (10) Subaru, BRZ*, Forester (non-turbo)*
8. (1) Scion, FR-S*, xB
9. (14) Porsche, 911*, Cayman*
10. (16) Kia, Optima Hybrid*, Cadenza
11. (3) Acura, RLX*, ILX
12. (7) Volvo, XC70, S60 (5- 6-cyl.)
13. (21) Hyundai, Santa Fe Sport (turbo), Azera
14. (15) BMW, 320i 328i (RWD), 4 Series*
15. (27) Lincoln, MKT Ecoboost,*, MKZ (V-6)*
16. (22) Nissan, Pathfinder, Maxima
17. (20) Volkswagen, CC, Passat 1.8T*
18. (25) Cadillac, ATS (turbo)*, ATS (V6)*
19. (9) GMC, Sierra 1500 (V8 4WD), Terrain (4-cyl.)
20. (6) Infiniti, Q50*, QX80*
21. (17) Chevrolet, Cruze 1.4T, Equinox (4-cyl.)
22. (18) Chrysler, 300, Town Country
23. (26) Ford, Fiesta, Fusion (1.5L Ecoboost)
24. (13) Mercedes-Benz, CLA 250*, GLK (diesel)
25. (24) Dodge, Dart 1.4T*, Dart (2.0L)*
26. (19) Ram, 2500 3500 (turbodiesel),1500 (V-8 4WD)
27. (23) Jeep, Cherokee (4-cyl.)*, Patriot
28. (NA) Fiat, 500L, 500

*Based on one model year; redesigned or introduced for 2014

Consumer Reports‘ most — and least — reliable individual models of cars and SUVs

Most reliable cars
Scion xB
Lexus CT 200h
Lexus ES 300h Hybrid

Most reliable SUVs
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Toyota Highlander (V6)
Lexus RX

Least reliable cars
Fiat 500L
Ford Fiesta
Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

Least reliable SUVs
Jeep Cherokee (4-cyl.)
Nissan Pathfinder
Jeep Grand Cherokee (diesel)

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See which states allow direct sales of Tesla cars

DETROIT, MI – Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed legislation that Tesla Motors and others see as extremely restrictive for the California electric car maker to do business in the state. 

Snyder noted as he signed HB 5606 into law that Tesla’s unique, non-dealership, direct-to-consumer sales structure was already illegal in Michigan before the legislation cruised through Lansing. 

The legislation centered around transaction fees dealerships charge their customers, but critics say dealership-backed amendments were added at the last minute that put greater restrictions on Tesla. 

Todd Maron, general counsel for Tesla, said that not only does it further ensure that company cannot sell directly to consumers in the state, it goes so far as to prohibit Tesla from displaying its cars to and communicating with potential customers in Michigan.

The bill’s sponsors say it has nothing to do with Tesla. Dealership groups argue Tesla should play by the same rules as them anyway.

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In any case, Michigan is not the only state to have enacted such legislation (although some argue that Michigan’s laws are especially severe). 

We were sent a map (seen above) from Mojo Motors that divides by where Tesla’s direct sales are banned, allowed or where there is legislation being considered to ban them. A spokesman for the blog told us the map is up to date, though Arizona has since banned Tesla sales. 

Another map by Automotive News shows where Tesla storefronts are legally allowed, legally allowed with restrictions, challenged in court, banned altogether or where the legality of Tesla’s direct sales is uncertain. 

Tesla sells its cars in at least 20 states and has more than 50 showrooms throughout the country. And although Michiganders may not be able to visit a Tesla showroom in their state any time soon, they can still buy cars from the company website and from private sellers.

Incorporated in 2003, the company began producing the Roadster electric two-seat sports car in 2008 with a base price of $109,000 in the U.S. It began selling the Model S sedan in 2012 with a starting price of $69,900. The Model S has shaken some of the competition, winning accolades such as Consumer Reports calling it the best car it has ever driven and the National Highway Safety Administration saying it’s the safest car it’s ever tested. 

While it’s easily its largest production vehicle, as of September Tesla has only sold 47,000 units of the Model S globally. That pales in comparison to the production and volume of established manufacturers; General Motors for example sold almost 2.5 million cars in the third quarter alone. 

David Muller is the automotive and business reporter for MLive Media Group in Detroit. Email him at or follow him on Twitter

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